Protests turn violent in Barcelona in fourth night of clashes


Protests in Catalonia have turned violent as rioters pelted police with projectiles in the fourth night of clashes over a Spanish rapper who was jailed for nine years over tweets ‘glorifying terrorism’.

Police in the northeastern region of Spain, which has seen most of this week’s rioting, said they had been met with a barrage of bottles, stones, fireworks and paint by protestors who have also been setting fire to large refuse containers before using them to block streets.

In downtown Barcelona, one group of rioters broke into two bank branches and tried to set a fire inside as others vandalized and ransacked stores, police said. 

And in Girona, another Catalan city, protesters smashed the windows of three banks as part of the ongoing protest. 

Police say that around 80 people have so far been arrested across the region with more than 100 others injured – including one woman who lost an eye after allegedly being hit by a foam round fired by police on Tuesday.

The clashes began after rapper Pablo Hasel, known for his fiercely anti-establishment raps, received a nine-month sentence earlier this week after his conviction for insulting the Spanish monarchy and praising terrorist violence – galvanising a debate over freedom of expression in Spain.

This prompted the government to announce it would make speech laws less restrictive but has strained relations inside the country’s coalition government. 

Protests in Catalonia have turned violent as rioters pelted police with stones and fireworks in the fourth night of clashes over a Spanish rapper who was jailed for nine years over tweets ‘glorifying terrorism’. Pictured: Demonstrator throws object in Barcelona

Police have said that protestors have also been setting fire to large street refuse containers before using them to block streets (pictured in Barcelona)

Police have said that protestors have also been setting fire to large street refuse containers before using them to block streets (pictured in Barcelona)

Thousands of people joined protest marches through the streets of Catalonia (pictured gathered in Barcelona) before a handful of attendees sparked the clashes with police

Thousands of people joined protest marches through the streets of Catalonia (pictured gathered in Barcelona) before a handful of attendees sparked the clashes with police

The clashes began after rapper Pablo Hasel, known for his fiercely anti-establishment raps, received a nine-month sentence earlier this week. Pictured: One protestor sprays a fire extinguisher at an ATM in Barcelona

The clashes began after rapper Pablo Hasel, known for his fiercely anti-establishment raps, received a nine-month sentence earlier this week. Pictured: One protestor sprays a fire extinguisher at an ATM in Barcelona

Demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday night after police detained rapper Pablo Hasel, 32, who had been holed up in a university in Catalonia to avoid going to jail in a case that has raised concerns about free speech in Spain. 

Thousands of people joined protest marches through the streets of Catalonia before a handful of attendees sparked the clashes with police.

Tensions escalated and protesters began throwing projectiles at officers as well as their own neighbours who condemned them for the disturbances. 

Although most of the protests started in Catalonia, where the rapper is from, they have spread to other cities including Madrid where another rally is to take place on Saturday.  

The pitched battles continued to rage hours after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned the violence as ‘inadmissible’. 

Police say that around 80 people (two men pictured being detained in Barcelona) have so far been arrested across the region with more than 100 others injured

Police say that around 80 people (two men pictured being detained in Barcelona) have so far been arrested across the region with more than 100 others injured

In downtown Barcelona, one group of rioters broke into two bank branches (pictured) and tried to set a fire inside as others vandalized and ransacked stores, police said

In downtown Barcelona, one group of rioters broke into two bank branches (pictured) and tried to set a fire inside as others vandalized and ransacked stores, police said 

Protests in Catalonia have turned violent as they enter the fourth day. Pictured: One demonstrator sits on a chair in front of a burning barricade

Protests in Catalonia have turned violent as they enter the fourth day. Pictured: One demonstrator sits on a chair in front of a burning barricade

Thousands of people joined protest marches through the streets of Catalonia before a handful of attendees sparked the clashes with police. Pictured: Demonstrators storm a bank branch in Barcelona

Thousands of people joined protest marches through the streets of Catalonia before a handful of attendees sparked the clashes with police. Pictured: Demonstrators storm a bank branch in Barcelona

The pitched battles continued to rage hours after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned the violence as 'inadmissible'. Pictured: Rioters deface trash containers with spray paint during clashes with Catalan regional police

The pitched battles continued to rage hours after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned the violence as ‘inadmissible’. Pictured: Rioters deface trash containers with spray paint during clashes with Catalan regional police

In impromptu remarks at the start of a speech about the economy, Sánchez addressed the rioting this week that has ignited a heated debate over the limits of free speech in Spain and a political storm over the use of violence by both the rapper’s supporters and the police. 

He said: ‘Democracy protects freedom of speech, including the expression of the most awful, absurd thoughts, but democracy never ever protects violence.’

Mr Sanchez, who promised to ‘widen and improve freedom of speech’, continued: ‘Violence is an attack on democracy and the government will take a stand against any form of violence to ensure people’s safety.’ 

‘In a full democracy – which Spain is – the use of any kind of violence is unacceptable. There is no exception to this rule,’ he added, in reference to remarks by Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias who said Hasel’s jailing raised questions about Spain’s democracy. 

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska also stepped into the row, thanking police for their efforts and saying they would continue to ‘guarantee the rights and freedoms of all society against a minority whose misguided idea of rights makes them have recourse to violence.’   

The clashes have now entered their fourth night in the Catalonia region. Pictured: One couple kiss in front of a barricade set by demonstrators during clashes with police in Barcelona

The clashes have now entered their fourth night in the Catalonia region. Pictured: One couple kiss in front of a barricade set by demonstrators during clashes with police in Barcelona

The pitched battles continued to rage hours after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned the violence as 'inadmissible'. Pictured: Demonstrators use an extinguisher to destroy a cash machine in Barcelona

The pitched battles continued to rage hours after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez condemned the violence as ‘inadmissible’. Pictured: Demonstrators use an extinguisher to destroy a cash machine in Barcelona

Tensions escalated and protesters began throwing projectiles at officers as well as their own neighbours who condemned them for the disturbances. Pictured: Crowds march through Barcelona

Tensions escalated and protesters began throwing projectiles at officers as well as their own neighbours who condemned them for the disturbances. Pictured: Crowds march through Barcelona

Demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday night after police detained rapper Pablo Hasel but have now entered their fourth night. Pictured: One woman looks at the damage of a bank branch after being stormed by demonstrators in Barcelona

Demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday night after police detained rapper Pablo Hasel but have now entered their fourth night. Pictured: One woman looks at the damage of a bank branch after being stormed by demonstrators in Barcelona

What did Pablo Hasel say in his tweets? 

March 27 2014: ‘The police kill 15 immigrants and they are little saints. The people defend themselves from their brutality and we are ‘violent terrorists, trash, etc’.’

October 30 2015: ‘Detained in Galicia for ‘glorifying terrorism’ that is, for saying that one has to fight against the fascist State.’ 

December 7 2015: If it’s true that the people love the monarchy as much as the mercenary tv pundits say, let them let the royal family loose in the streets without bodyguards. 

‘One more year with the mafioso and medieval monarchy insulting our intelligence and divinity with public monies. Incredible.’ 

December 25 2015: ‘The f***ing mafioso king giving lessons from the palace, he’s a millionaire thanks to other people’s misery. Brand Spain.’

January 21 2016: ‘The Spanish Kingdom’s friends bombing hospitals while Juan Carlos goes whoring with them.’ 

February 7 2016: ‘The police that jailed people under Franco and that now jail people as judges of the Nazi-onal Court.’ 

March 7 2016: ‘The police sow racism and harvest rage. Who’s surprised?’ 

March 16 2016: ‘The police are racist with immigrants and when they receive a blow in response, act like they’re the victims. Same old story as always.’

March 17 2016: ‘When the police use their weapons against the oppressors and not the oppressed, then you can start telling us that they are our allies.’ 

March 24 2016: ‘No Guardia Civil agent paid for the 16 immigrants murdered by rubber bullets. Now call that democracy’

But their comments have only accentuated a rift with the coalition government’s junior partner. 

Sánchez and Grande-Marlaska belong to the Socialist party – which heads the coalition government. 

Senior members of the coalition’s junior partner, the far-left United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party, have spoken out in support of the protesters and criticised police after a protester lost an eye allegedly due to a foam bullet fired by riot police. 

Podemos MP Pablo Echenique tweeted support for the protesters as the violence raged Wednesday night as he wrote: ‘All my support to the young anti-fascists who are demanding justice and freedom of expression in the streets.’

On Thursday, the party filed a petition for a ‘total pardon’ for Hasel and another rapper, Valtonyc, who fled to Belgium in 2018 to avoid trial on charges of ‘glorifying’ terrorism.

Spain is trying to have Valtonyc extradited but Belgium has refused on grounds that his offences are not a crime under Belgian law. 

Many people, including artists, celebrities and politicians – such as film director Pedro Almodovar, Hollywood actor Javier Bardem and folk singer Joan Manuel Serrat – have expressed their support for Hasel.

They are now advocating a change in the country’s so-called ‘Gag Law’ covering freedom of expression.

Podemos emerged from the anti-austerity ‘Indignados’ protest movement that occupied squares across Spain in 2011, with the party saying the Hasel case highlighted Spain’s ‘democratic shortcomings’.

But Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos said defending democracy should never involve violence.

‘Any expression of violence arises from a violent character. 

‘Peaceful people don’t carry out acts of violence and within a democracy, no rights are expressed through violence,’ he told reporters.

The government unexpectedly announced last week that it would change the law to scrap prison terms for offences involving freedom of expression. 

It did not specifically mention Hasel, whose real name is Pablo Rivadulla, or set a timetable for the changes.

Known for his hard-left views, Hasel was handed a nine-month sentence over tweets glorifying terrorism and videos inciting violence – with the court stating freedom of expression could not be used ‘as a “blank cheque” to praise the perpetrators of terrorism’.

He was also fined about €30,000 (£25,900) for insults, libel and slander for tweets likening former king Juan Carlos I to a mafia boss and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants.

The northeastern region of Spain has seen most of this week's rioting. Pictured: Protesters set fires in the street following a march in Barcelona

The northeastern region of Spain has seen most of this week’s rioting. Pictured: Protesters set fires in the street following a march in Barcelona 

Police in the northeastern region of Spain, which has seen most of this week's rioting, said they had been met with a barrage of bottles, stones, fireworks and paint thrown by protestors (pictured in Barcelona)

Police in the northeastern region of Spain, which has seen most of this week’s rioting, said they had been met with a barrage of bottles, stones, fireworks and paint thrown by protestors (pictured in Barcelona) 

Tensions escalated and protesters began throwing projectiles at officers as well as their own neighbours who condemned them for the disturbances. Pictured: Rioters pose for pictures during the protest in Barcelona

Tensions escalated and protesters began throwing projectiles at officers as well as their own neighbours who condemned them for the disturbances. Pictured: Rioters pose for pictures during the protest in Barcelona

Catalan students unions have called for a strike and a protest Friday over the rapper’s arrest.

Rights group Amnesty International has also called for legal changes in Spain saying that anti-terrorism and gagging laws also unfairly limited people’s right to demonstrate their disapproval in the streets.

Esteban Beltran, Head of Amnesty International for Spain, told Reuters: ‘Spain is a country with freedom of expression, of course, but there are threats to that freedom.’ 

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